Every year, we make a variety of transitions in preparation for colder weather. We swap out our wardrobe, update our thermostat settings, stock up on hot chocolate, and hunt down holiday-themed lattes, but what about your car? Many of us are a bit obsessed with automotive safety, and rightfully so as we rely on them to protect our loved ones in the event of an accident, but relatively few folks take the time to properly prepare their vehicles for winter travel.
As a Pennsylvania native now living in Texas, I’ve noticed a great under-appreciation for good winter preparation in the Lone Star State. I want to discuss 5 key points to keep your car in good working order all winter – and even save your life. And while some of this might be old hat to my fellow Yankees, sometimes a little refresher is good for us all.
1) Check Your Tires
Unlike vast frozen tundra of New England and the Midwest, most of us think we have no need for snow tires, but most of us don’t live in Southern California, either. Texas gets heavy rain, ice, and snow (though most Texans forget this fact), so when it comes time to outfit your vehicle with a new set of treads, opt for a strongly rated all-season tire.
In the mean time, I cannot emphasize enough the need to keep an eye on your tread depth. It’s as simple as using the penny trick.
2) Check Your Engine Oil
It can be daunting to sift through the dizzying array of motor oil options at your local auto parts store, but choosing a motor oil viscosity for cold weather condition is a bit less vexing, thankfully. Most modern automobiles give specific recommendations for what oil to use given your local conditions, and that is a good guide to follow. If, however, no such recommendation is available for your car, opt for a 5W variety, as this makes it easier for your engine to get up and start running when it’s cold.
3) Check Your Battery
Let me rephrase that – check your battery often! Just as extreme heat can take a toll on your battery, cold weather reduces the efficiency of your battery. Most auto parts stores will check your battery for free, so there is little excuse for not taking care of it during cold winter months.
And when it comes time for a new battery, do your homework on current ratings for cold weather reliability before you make your next purchase.
4) Check Your Wipers and Lights
This one should be a no-brainer, as winter conditions can make visibility difficult. But since you don’t always remember keep up with the changes in weather predictions, it’s best to be prepared before anything happens. During these cold, wet, “dark-at-5:30 pm” winter months, we burn through headlights, trim lights, and wiper blades quickly. Keep a spare set of all of the above in your vehicle, and practice replacing them when it’s nice outside. This way, you’re ready for that inevitable wiper change or headlight replacement in the middle of a freezing rain shower.
5) Check Your Emergency Gear
I’ve been freezing cold and stranded on more occasions than I care to remember, so I’ve learned to be prepared. Stock up on the following items to avoid total misery:
- Cold weather clothing (heavy socks, extra changes of cloths, heat packs, boots, etc.)
- Spare blankets
- Water in an insulated container
- Food (high protein snack bars are a great option)
- Jumper cables and a jump starter (remember to periodically charge it)
- A portable phone charger (or 2)
- A tire inflator and some fix-a-flat
- Spare doses of your medications, as well as a first aid kit
- Road flares and signs (to alert other drivers as well as to signal for help)
- A bag of cat litter (use for traction when your wheels spin on ice or snow)
- A small automotive tool kit and a spare set of fuses
- A road atlas and local maps if you typically use your phone as a GPS.(Not all GPS models require a cellular connection, but you’ll need to keep it powered up. Refer back to the point about portable phone chargers.)
- Extra cash or an emergency credit card
Getting your car ready for winter travel isn’t as difficult as it sounds, but being prepared when you travel for anything that winter weather can dish out is quite important. It’s far better than sitting stranded in a 1983 Pontiac Grand Prix, miles from the nearest warm place to relax, while you wait hours for a tow (oh, the errors of my youth).